To understand the Scythian is to go outside normal domestic living. For men and women living in cities, the security of walls, regular delivered milk and other expectations of suburban life the Scythian is an enigma. Roaming the southern steppes in what would today be Chechyna and Khazakstan was the traditional home of the Scythian. The lands inhabited were lands to the north of the Parthians, and to those living in the middle east; the ends of the world. Herodotus indicates that the lands of the Scythian were once European, with their boundaries at the Pontus (Black sea) and the Don. (1) indicating their original name was scoloti, but called Scythians by the Greeks (1b) Their name contains the word scythe, a word depicting the curved weapons of the mounted cavalry for which they were most famous. The origins of the Cossacks most likely can be found in this people. The Greeks understood the term to be loosely used of the people of the northern steppes, a location later to be inhabited by the Tartary and the Hun, and so when used in scripture, the term was a loose term describing the barbaric and uncivilised, and the juxtaposition to the civilised and educated and deeply ceremonial/religious, Col 3:11.
The Scythians were marked in history with military engagements outside their own territory in two main events:
- An invasion of Persia in the time of Cyaxares (635-595BC), which spilt over into a general rout into the middle east as far as the borders of Egypt, and their control of segments of this land was to continue for 28 years.
- An invasion of Scythia by Darius the son of Hystaspes, which was unsuccessful
The name of Bethshan is also given Scythopolis: A number of ideas about this origin are given:
- The town was taken in the time of Josiah by the Scythians
- It was during the northern routing invasion ca600BC that the town of Bethshean was taken by the Scythians, only a few decades before the taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. It was renamed as Scythopolis, a name known by Eusebius, Pliny and Strabo (3) recorded in Byzantine history(4) and a name used in the LXX in Judges 1:27. A tel close to the west of Bethshan called tel shuk may contain a toponym of this ancient nation. Roland, Gesenius et al dispute this, and claim it was related to a abbregated form of the word Succoth. The Greek legend of Dyonisus burying Nysa was also associated with Bethshan, so it was also known by Pliny as Nysaean Scythopolis or the Nysea of Coele-Syria.
- Scythian members of a Ptolemaic army were given license to reside at Bethshean and allowed to remain there. (5)
Following this brief hiatus on the world scene, the people were to become extinct as a separate people by the time of Pliny (2) and by the time of Ptolemy it was understood to extend from Hungary to the Himalaya.
- Herod iv.20, (b) iv.6
- Pliny hist. nat. iv.25
- Onam; Pliny hist nat v.18; Strabo geog xvi
- Syncellus i.405, The Jewish people in the first century Hist, Geog, Polit pg 1066
The Hellenistic settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa, Getzel M. Cohen pg 295